First Cup: Thursday

  • Anthony Rieber of Newsday: The discombobulated Knicks had one of their stars and their prized rookie back from injury Wednesday night. They had fresh memories of Monday's home loss to the Raptors and a warning from coach Mike D'Antoni to not let it happen again against a second-tier opponent such as the Charlotte Bobcats. The only thing the Knicks forgot was all of it. They were outplayed at the Garden again and heard boos throughout as the Bobcats won, 118-110, to drop the Knicks to 2-4. A late Knicks spurt made the final score closer than the game. "That hurt," said Carmelo Anthony , who had 32 points. "Just the way we've been playing the last couple games. I mean, it hurts to lose games like that."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Andray Blatche pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head, placed a pair of oversize headphones on his ears, and scrolled to a Sam Cooke song on his iPod. As he grabbed his belongings to leave the visitor’s locker room at Amway Center after the Washington Wizards’ 103-85 loss to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, Blatche started singing off-key: “A change gon’ come . . . oh, yes it will.” The Wizards will have to do something different, because their first six games have produced some miserable performances that have left the players zapped of enthusiasm. And there are still 60 games remaining. At 0-6, the team is off to the worst start in the history of a franchise that has had far too many dreadful campaigns since it last reached the NBA Finals nearly 33 years ago. “It’s kind of dead around here as you can see, feels like we been playing for two or three months already,” reserve guard Jordan Crawford said. “It’s sad right now. It’s bad.” Coming off a seemingly encouraging loss two nights before in Boston — where they shared the ball, helped on defense and were competitive from start to finish — the Wizards appeared disorganized, dysfunctional and discombobulated on both ends of the floor.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: It appears that new acquisition Glen Davis has a ways to go before he fits in with the Orlando Magic offense. After Davis made just two of his 10 shot attempts in the Magic's 103-85 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, coachStan Van Gundy indicated that he and Davis aren't on the same page — at least not yet. "He's not playing well, and I'm not sure his mind's on the right things right now," Van Gundy said. "What we need him to do is defend, which he has done pretty well, rebound better than he's rebounding and move the ball and set screens. "We'll keep working at it," Van Gundy added later. "I've seen the guy play very well. He's a good player. He's a smart guy. He should be able to figure it out. Sometimes it takes time." Davis started practicing with the Magic on Dec. 13, and the team had only two exhibition games before the regular season began. Davis did not look happy after Wednesday's game.

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: He could operate the most unstoppable offense in the pro game. His brilliant star power is undeniable. At age 24, this athlete should rule sports in Denver for the next 10 years. Sorry, Tim Tebow. We're talking about Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson. How big is Lawson's ambition? "It's huge," he told me Wednesday, after the Nuggets blew away Sacramento 110-83. "I want to be the best." The search for the star to replace Carmelo Anthony begins and ends with Lawson, who leads the Nuggets in scoring. He is the player on this team most likely to make the All-Star Game. The top three point guards currently working in the Western Conference? I would argue they are: 1) Chris Paul, 2) Russell Westbrook and 3) Lawson. ... In pro sports, it's hard to truly be the man on any team unless you are the best player in the locker room. The Nuggets are Lawson's team. And long after Tebow is a fondly remembered footnote in local sports history, Denver will be Lawson's town.

  • Terry Foster of The Detroit News: He didn't want to cry. He didn't want to show emotion. As Richard Hamilton walked onto The Palace court for the first time as an opponent in 10 years, all he wanted was for the game to start. Then, he became the same old Hamilton. He simply wanted to play a well-rounded game, which he did, finishing with 14 points, five assists and three rebounds as the Bulls pounded the Pistons, 99-83, on Wednesday. "It was fun," Hamilton said. "There were a lot of emotions on being on the visitors' side. I am not used to it. I was like, 'Please, don't start crying.'" During nine seasons in Detroit, Hamilton helped the Pistons advance to six consecutive Eastern Conference finals and two NBA Finals, and the 2004 NBA title. But the Pistons bought out his contract before the season. "I thought we were all Pistons royalty," Hamilton said before the game. "I think Chauncey (Billups) was. Rasheed (Wallace) was. Tayshaun (Prince) is. We put everything in it. We just wanted to play. We never got into some outside situations. We just wanted to play."

  • Jonathan Feigen of then Houston Chronicle: The defense has not been invented that can work without energy and effort, the qualities the Rockets so glaringly lacked on Wednesday. It can’t happen. You can put every coaching genius to ever blow a whistle or sit in the front row of the bus together to brain storm and if players don’t give a damn, they would fail. The Rockets played as if they didn’t give a damn. Nothing Kevin McHale planned or prepared in a rare shootaround between back-to-back games had a chance. The Rockets, however, seemed to lack more than effort. They also seemed to have no clue. The Clippers have wonderful offensive talent, and Chris Paul alone is enough to make an offense click. But the Rockets seemed to have no idea how to defend basic NBA plays.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: In Wednesday’s loss at San Antonio, Curry sprained his ankle for the third time this season. With 3:10 left in the third quarter, he scooped up a loose ball off an Ekpe Udoh deflection and was set to push it the other way. But when he planted his right foot, his toe jammed into the court and his right ankle rolled over. He immediately tried to get rid of the ball, throwing an errant pass before limping off to the side. After trying to walk it off, he was helped to the bench. Eventually he went to the locker room for treatment. He said he tried to return, re-taping his ankle and re-lacing his shoes. But his ankle had already stiffened up too much. His night was over. ... He’s tried everything else this season. After the initial sprain, he spent four days receiving rest and treatment. That worked enough to get him on the court but not enough to keep him from spraining it again. Then, after the second sprain, he tried a new ankle-taping technique and even traveled to Nike to research and change shoes. Still he sprained it again, the second time he’s done it this season without any contact. Curry could sit out and let it heal. But that’s not a guaranteed remedy. He sat out for four months this offseason. Nonetheless, sitting out an extended period helped last year. Curry sprained his ankle last year at San Antonio (on Dec. 8). He was out of action until Christmas Day. He didn’t miss any more games the rest of the way.

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: How well is Bargnani playing this season — for the first time ever and the first time since Chris Bosh was in town, a smattering of possibly well-lubricated fans were chanting M-V-P when Bargnani went to the line. MVP? Let’s not get crazy, people, but Bargnani certainly has played at an elite level so far. Casey agrees. The coach singled out Bargnani for — of all things — his defence, particularly his ability to cover enough ground to make the defence effective. He’s playing at an all-star level,” Casey said. “I’ve been around some great players: Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Kevin Garnett, Dirk (Nowitzki), he’s playing at that level offensively and defensively.”

  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: If the playoffs started today ... Never mind. The Trail Blazers are five games into this 66-game season, and alluding to any postseason scenario would be the ultimate ode to prematurity. For example, if the playoffs started today, the world champion Dallas Mavericks wouldn’t even be playing while the Utah Jazz — who plummeted after trading away Deron Williams to the Nets last season — would be in as the seventh seed. So while this start may be nothing more than a fleeting memory, and while sports history has repeatedly proven that one shouldn’t overreact to early results, this much is indisputable: Portland has the best record in the West. Normally, maintaining their position in the standings would be the Blazers’ (and their fans’) primary motivation heading into the next game. But Thursday night offers a much more satisfying opportunity — beating the Los Angeles Lakers. No scientific data can support the following claim, but based on feel and the emotional response the 16-time NBA champions generate when mentioned in Northwest, the purple-and-gold team from Los Angeles is likely the most despised of Portland’s opponents. Just take a glance at a message board for proof, where they are generally referred to as the “L*kers.”

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: It's that time again — unfortunately, for the Lakers. Coach Mike Brown has no idea what awaits him Thursday at the Rose Garden, a misguided arena name if ever there was one for a Lakers opponent. The issues are much more than thorny up here. They've lasted almost a generation for the Lakers. Since acquiring Kobe Bryant in a draft-day trade in 1996, the Lakers are 6-23 in Portland in the regular season, falling to the Trail Blazers year after year, whether rain or hail or the occasional burst of sunshine as their bus pulls into the oversized garage. Phil Jackson used to blame the weather. Then he blamed the team's semiannual visits to the Nike store in nearby Beaverton. Then he went back to blaming the weather. It will be noisy — the Blazers' fans are among the best in the league — adding a Super Bowl-type din to their den whenever the Lakers arrive. Ready, Brown? Not really.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: These days, over Kobe Bryant's right wrist also rests a fat postgame ice wrap roughly the size of rookie guard Andrew Goudelock, Bryant trying in vain to minimize swelling after acting on the court as if there isn't a torn ligament in there. Bryant has been taking a numbing injection to that wrist before every game in hopes of performing normally. Yes, it's that bad. He does not want to publicize all the details of his wrist, which is usable only because the bones were not moved permanently out of alignment without the ligament to hold them in place. But it's now clear just how problematic the wrist is, and it's fair to wonder where all this will take Bryant. Bryant walked out of Staples Center on Tuesday night with something that looked like an oven mitten over his right hand and wrist. He wears an immobilizing brace over the wrist when off the court, meaning take-for-granted parts of life such as texting on his phone or zipping his fly become rather challenging. It was much the same aggravation in 2009-10, when Bryant played through the avulsion fracture in his right index finger – another rather useful body part for everyday activities apart from handling a basketball, too.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant was asked following Tuesday's loss to Portland if his team's sense of urgency is rising in light of the Oklahoma City Thunder's two-game losing streak. “What?” Durant asked, sounding shocked at the question. “You think we panicking?” A small crowd of reporters couldn't help but chuckle at the response. But in a way, plenty of people, both in the media and in the team's fan base, perhaps needed to hear a rhetorical retort like that from Durant. If nothing else, it provided some perspective. After opening the year with five straight wins, the Thunder looked the part of the championship contender many claimed it would be coming into this season. That winning streak, though, masked mistakes which became more glaring with the Thunder dropping its past two by a combined 23 points. “It's not like we're getting down on ourselves,” Durant said. “We're seven games into the season.” It seems that reality has been lost everywhere but inside the Thunder's locker room.

  • Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press: Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics will be a Basketball Hall of Fame member after his playing days. Garnett began his NBA career with the Timberwolves. But if another Timberwolves power forward named Kevin continues at his current pace, he could be headed to the Hall of Fame, too. It's early, of course, for the Wolves' Kevin Love. But through the first three years of their careers, Love and Garnett have comparable stats. Garnett, who joined the Wolves out of high school, averaged 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds his first season. In his second season, he averaged 17.0 points and 8.0 rebounds, and during his third season, 18.5 points and 9.6 rebounds. Love has been better. Love, who joined the Wolves after one season at UCLA, averaged 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds in his first season in the NBA. He averaged 14.0 points and 11 rebounds in his second season, then averaged 20.2 points and 15.2 rebounds in his third season. "I didn't know that," Wolves President David Kahn said.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Comment From Guest ... How serious is Dwight Howard considering coming to Dallas? And do the Mavericks have cap space to bring in Deron Williams as well? If not will they attempt a trade to bring him in? Sefko: Can anybody really know how much one person wants to come to the Mavericks? Or how much anybody really wants to do anything? All I can tell you is that Howard's agent is the same agent as Yi Jianlian's and the same agent as Erick Dampier's and the same agent as a lot of other players who have come through Dallas and whom Mark Cuban has made very wealthy. That can't hurt. As for getting both Howard and Williams, it will take some creativity, but it could be done, probably as you suggested -- one of them maxed out with a free-agent contract and the other maxed out with a sign-and-trade.

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Bradford Doolittle was at Hawks-Bulls and writes a thoughtful piece at Basketball Prospectus about his observations of the Hawks’ (so far) improved defense (ranked third in efficiency before tonight’s games). It’s worth a read. In the post, Doolittle says the Hawks made “no major personnel additions to explain the defensive improvement.” But I think they have and it (possibly) does. (All of the following comes with the necessary Small Sample Size Qualifier.) The Hawks have more defensive talent and depth than last season (and probably more versatility, too). It’s now more Jeff Teague (not new, but new to getting most of the point guard minutes) and Jannero Pargo, no Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford. It’s more Tracy McGrady (size, rebounds) and Vladimir Radmonovic (steals, blocks), no Mo Evans and Damien Wilkins. It’s (eventually, I’m assuming) more Zaza Pachulia, no Josh Powell. Look at Atlanta’s on-court, off-court numbers at basketballvalue.com. Notice that all of the bench guys have better defensive ratings than all of the starters. There are likely factors at play here beyond the Small Sample Size Qualifier–for instance, the Hawks have yet to face a team with much scoring depth–but so far there’s a striking difference in the distribution of those numbers as compared to last season.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Glenn Robinson was the only player taken before Kidd and Phoenix's Grant Hill in the 1994 draft but he has not played an NBA game since 2005. Meanwhile, Kidd and Hill talked this off-season in the Valley about how neither starter is on the cusp of retirement. "He wants to get to 40 and I want to get to 40," said Kidd, 38, of he and Hill, 39. Kidd spent off-season time at the Valley home he has kept since playing for the Suns in 2001.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Longtime Pacers radio play-by-play voice Mark Boyle is going back in time. Boyle, who did Pacers games by himself for three years, is doing 19 solo radio broadcasts. Longtime analyst and former Pacers coach Bob "Slick" Leonard is not traveling because of health concerns. "It's a lot different," Boyle said. "In some ways it's easier because you're not trying to fit another guy in, but it's not as enjoyable. I personally don't think it's as good of a broadcast. I think two voices are needed." Leonard isn't traveling this season after he suffered a heart attack on the team bus following a game in New York last March. Former Pacer Austin Croshere will join Boyle for 14 road games.

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: Former Spur Mike Mitchell, who died last June after a long battle with cancer, was honored by the team at halftime. Mitchell’s family was presented with three framed pictures, and Mitchell’s wife, Diana, received a diamond necklace from the team. “I miss my teammate,” legendary Spurs guard George Gervin said about Mitchell. “He was a great teammate and a great friend. We played a lot of basketball and golf together. I love that man. He will never be forgotten.” Mitchell played seven seasons with the Spurs, averaging 20.1 points per game, which ranks fifth in team history.